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Beth Schmillen

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Ugly Website?
3/28/2006 7:06:44 PM
This article may be reprinted as long as all links are active, including a link to the article's original location which can be found at http://www.site-reference.com. The Surprising Truth About Ugly Websites By Mark Daoust Ugliness has nevër looked better. I have spent the last few days examining a surprising trend in web design that has made ugly websites look absolutely irresistible. No, it's not the bolded, 18 point Times New Roman font shouting at me as I access the page that has me excited, nor is it the harsh colors that have actually managed to make my eyes hurt and distort my vision. In fact, it's not even that logo which is so pixelated from being processed, resized, saved, and edited so many times that it appears to be blurred to protect the identity of the company who owns the website that has me singing the praises of ugly websites. What is it? Ugly sells. That's right – ugly websites are surprisingly effective in making monëy. As a person who puts business before technology, a profitable website is a website that is an unbelievably attractive website to me. The Case of Plenty of Fish I was struck by an example of just how effective ugly websites can be this past week as I was browsing through some web related news. I stumbled across the story of Plenty of Fish. This is a very plain looking website that offers a frëe online dating service much like Match.com (but without the subscription fee). There was nothing specifically impressive about the website that stood out to me, in fact the site was actually rather ugly. What caused me (and I am sure several other people) to take a second look at the website was its reported earnings. It is reported that this website brings in over $10,000 from Adsense – in one day. Yes, you did read that correctly. For those of you counting, that is $300,000 per month and nearly one million dollars in just three months. The example of Plenty of Fish led me to consider how an ugly website could be so successful. As I looked around, I suddenly realized that this was not the only successful ugly website. Ebay is unbelievably ugly; Craigslist has nevër won an award for innovative design, and IMDB has nevër even bothered to format their text out of the default Times New Roman. What is it about ugly websites that makes them so successful? The Ability to Convey Trust A while back I wrote an article on Controlling Your Visitors Eyes. The main point to this article was that you have less than a second to convey your marketing message to your visitor, and that every aspect, from your font selection, to the colors, navigation, and layout of your website plays a part in conveying your marketing message. When I wrote this article, I had beautiful, CSS designed websites in mind. The idea that an ugly website could present a positive message nevër crossed my mind. Yet the fact is, ugly websites do have the ability to present the perfect marketing message. What is that message? You can trust us. We are a family run business and do not employ a marketing team. Our website is simple, but functional. Most importantly, our goal is to serve our customers, not necessarily learn HTML. As Internet professionals, we often forget that a large part of our society is actually afraid of the Internet. Although online shopping is growing, most people still have concerns about online security and the impersonal nature of the web. Most people do not know how to surf efficiently and use only the default tools that are given to them when they take their computer out of the box. And this is one reason that ugly websites can sell. The lack of professionalism and a polished look leads one to believe that they are dealing with an individual. Websites cannot be trusted, but individuals can be trusted. Function Over Förm Although the above theory holds true in many examples, I believe there is more to the success of ugly websites than just conveying trust. Many of the websites that I referenced above have one underlying trait that can be attributed to their success: they are extremely easy to use. Google is probably the best example of how functionality over förm can lead to success. When Google initially launched, every other major search engine was in the process of transforming themselves into a portal that would offer users all the information they could possibly want, and probably more than they really would want. Google, on the other hand, made their website ridiculously simple. There is one purpose to Google – to search the web. Nothing else was there to distract you from this one goal. It certainly did not hurt that Google was able to serve up relevant results, but the simplicity of the system was key to winning over users. Sites like Drudge Report and Craigslist can also trace much of their success back to their functionality. Drudge Report is a very simple website that is essentially a collection of links to news stories. Most of the time, the Drudge Report does not even link over to content on their own website. Users who wanted an interesting collection of links to various news stories could find them all on one simple page. Craigslist also boasts simplicity. The website is simple to browse, simple to post, and simple to use. Because of its simplicity, it grew. The general lesson here is simplicity. A beautiful website may draw a user in initially, but a simple website will keep your users coming back. If one of your users gets lost trying to navigate your website, chëck out of your web store, or find simple contact information, then you unnecessarily are increasing the chances that this user will simply leave. Ugliness By Application – Not By Rule Although ugly websites are often easier to use and can convey a unique sense of trust, ugliness is not a rule that should apply to all websites. In fact, the vast majority of websites can be improved by adding formatting and focusing on good site design principles. There are two general rules that you must keep in mind when building your website: 1) What type of message will resonate with my visitors, and 2) Is the site easy to use? Knowing the answer to the first question is knowing what type of visitors you are trying to reach. Are your visitors web-savvy and thus looking for a well-designed website? Are your visitors uncomfortable with the impersonal nature of the web and just looking for a simple website that is easy for them to use? Are your visitors scared of using online payment processing, or do they prefer the convenience of paying online where they do not have to talk to a person? The second question is a rule that should apply to every website: functionality is more important than the design of your website. This does not mean, however, that a beautiful website cannot be easy to use. What this does mean is that you should nevër sacrifice the usability of your website for a fancy design effect or a more visually appealing website. In Conclusion – It's Not Necessarily Ugliness That Sells As website owners, it is very easy to get caught up in the design of our websites. We want to present our businesses to visitors in the best way possible, and as we get familiar with web technologies and design techniques, it is easy to focus solely on the design of a website from the standpoint of what looks good rather than the message our website conveys. What we need to keep in mind, is that websites are meant to be used – used for reading, used for networking, used for shopping, etc. Websites, like any other marketing tool, convey a message and are an invitation for visitors to trust us. Our design needs to reflect this. Take a moment today to look over your website. Is it really easy to use? Have you been more worried about the look of your website than its functionality? Would it be more effective if it were simpler in its design? About The Author Mark Daoust is the owner of Site Reference. This article may be reprinted as long as all links are active, including a link to the article's original location which can be found at http://www.site-reference.com.
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Re: Ugly Website?
3/29/2006 3:06:55 AM
Hi Beth, Thanks for the invite. Great subject and article. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" comes to mind. Perhaps the same may be said for ugly. The article in its original location has sparked off a number of very interesting forum responses. Almost all appear to think that ebay is ugly. It would be very interesting to get a community view of what makes a site appear to be ugly. What makes people decide within less than 10 seconds of viewing a site that they want to move on? My current stats give an average of 183 seconds viewing with 80% being in 0-30 seconds and the remaining reaching as high as over 45 MINUTES. As a home made template built by a technical dodo I can drive it-its straight-forward HTML. Changes to content can be done and uploaded quickly. That said. A search today on msn.com for 'local gazette' placed it at 55 out of over 1 million results.(before launch) You can find it here http://www.MyLocalGazette.com Any constructive views and critique is welcome if the results do not need to spend more money. Great believer that music in a minor key has more impact on the emotions than in major- stirring stuff! Maybe it is not PC to talk about ugly. Perhaps aesthetically challenged may suit. Thanks again. I look forward to other's views. Warmest regards, Peter
Network Your Way to Success. It's Fun! http://www.thenorthdevontimes.co.uk - You can have one or more!
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Beth Schmillen

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Re: Ugly Website?
4/13/2006 12:09:58 AM
Hello Peter, Seems like mine is primarily the view posted here except for your kind and insightful postings...and a handful of other friends ... eye of the beholder and measured right down to the seconds it takes to stay or surf on. What I like about your site is that it is responsive on my old pc and antiquated browser with only dial up. You're in the UK, right? It's odd the sites overseas seem to load quick and function better than say, MSN - which I never found especially attractive to begin with! It never occurred to me to judge eBay for it's looks since it is a marketplace and not a bazaar with old world charms or sultry flavors! If only eBay would refund my money they owe me! I might see them with kinder eyes. I'll try and find another article to post here. Happy Bunny Day to you, Beth
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Beth Schmillen

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Re: Ugly Website?
6/5/2006 3:30:24 AM
Well -- it's been a month since I've posted here! I got an inactive notice! inactive? I've been busy.... and I'm stil deciding on where to have my website hosted. I'm building one on the ecomplanet.com free hosting offered here at adland. I'm looking at PbP or push button publishing... I've tried Yahoo before and it's more than I can deal with for now. My initial plan is to start up several free sites and see which ones feel right and then decide when & if i should upgrade to paid service...for hosting. I've found a site where you can create mirror pages of affiliate sites and then upload them to free websites on an individual page to get a better page ranking with your own key words... I'll be trying that out for the next couple of weeks... Hope all is going well with my network of adland friends Beth
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Re: Ugly Website?
6/7/2006 4:37:40 PM
Hi Beth. Doesn't time fly when you are having fun! My wife has been a member of Push Button for years now: mail me and I will send you her e-mail address- if you would like it. She rates them very highly for value and content. That brings me to hosting. I like you plan went the route of Free or very cheap on the html wagon. Learnt a bit as they say. Later I found that to produce what I wanted took endless hours and fun and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth - as they said. Most templates ,whilst pretty, didn't fit my idea of what I wanted - the rest is history. Later I discovered the power of PHP and use of Mysql database templates which come 'free' when you have a paid for hosting provider. Depending on your planned presentation they can seriously short circuit development time and cost and add value. I have started that approach whilst continuing to develop the Gazette. I will take a lot of persuading that I should abandon my first love ( as you do) completely. To be small and sleek will allow a change of direction at the turn of the wheel as opposed to being locked in to something you have to fit into. I am using SiteGround for hosting. They are just wonderful so far and even if you don't want to buy yet, they are worth a visit to check out how helpful they are. http://www.siteground.com/atrack.php?referrerid=17555 They have an affiliate program either 3months free hosting per sign-up or a clickbank method of 20% payment. They get a lot of referrals from users. Would like to know more about your mirror find. That could be especially useful to my members. I got here because I had a Reminder set to notify me of posts. Perhaps those that didn't are not aware your back giving us more valuable info and opportunities. Warmest Regards, Peter.
Network Your Way to Success. It's Fun! http://www.thenorthdevontimes.co.uk - You can have one or more!
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